The “PAW Patrol” franchise is now 10 years old — 70 in dog years — and with each installment, children and their parents have been treated to exciting adventures, wholesome characters and cool new merchandise. What began as a preschool TV series in 2013 got the silver-screen treatment in 2021 with the inventively named “PAW Patrol: The Movie,” broadening its scale and reach but sacrificing none of its lesson-learning or toy-slinging. Given the property’s theatrical and streaming success, there’s an audience perpetually hungry to connect with the ongoing saga of a tween boy and his pack of four-legged heroes. The fantasy-forward follow-up “PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” involving a meteor, magic crystals and a mad scientist (who hates being called that), expands their journey to saving the world.
This time, their mission holds greater challenge and peril — raising the bar creatively and bumping the MPAA rating from G to PG. While not as subversive as its predecessor, it delivers on the promise of a smart and salient sequel with bolder action, bigger stakes, and deeper resonance for all ages.
Adventure City is safe and secure on land, at sea and in the air thanks to the elite PAW Patrol and their efforts to quell crime and avert disasters. Team leader Ryder (Finn Lee-Epp) is so confident in their ability to keep the peace that he’s decided to take on three young, clumsy and over-eager trainees: Nano (Alan Kim), Mini (Brice Gonzalez) and Tot (North West). Though the newest member of the pack, headstrong dachshund Liberty (Marsai Martin), is initially opposed to the idea, she stays behind to train the trio when the others are called out to fight danger. Little do they know a lurking evil is about to upend their lives.
From her lair in an abandoned observatory, scientific mastermind Victoria Vance (Taraji P. Henson) plots to magnetically harness a meteor and mine it for its powers. However, her plan goes awry, putting citizens at risk and the pups in its path. While Vance is sent to jail for her misdeeds — where she connects with the pups’ longtime foe Mayor Humdinger (Ron Pardo) and his Kitten Catastrophe Crew — the patrol learns the massive rock contains special crystals that give them amazing abilities: Pilot Skye (Mckenna Grace) can fly and has super strength; police dog Chase (Christian Convery) has super speed; bulldozing bulldog Rubble (Luxton Handspiker) can turn himself into a wrecking ball; firehouse dalmatian Marshall (Christian Corrao) can throw fireballs; aquatic diver Zuma (Nylan Parthipan) can control water; and gadget guru Rocky (Callum Shoniker) is magnetic. But just as The Mighty Pups are honing their newfound skillsets, a trap is set that threatens their livelihood.
Similar to their first big-screen adventure, another pup suffers from a crisis of confidence: Skye, whose small stature causes her to question her self-worth. Yet returning writer-director Cal Brunker and co-screenwriter Bob Barlen add different facets to her arc to distinguish it from Chase’s anxiety issues. Her tiny pink bandana acts as a literal and figurative tie to her past. They include a beautifully poignant, “Jessie’s Song”-like backstory that blends Christina Aguilera’s tear-jerking ballad “Learning to Fly” with breathtaking animation. The filmmakers also turn their focus to Liberty and her heartrending struggle to figure out her purpose as well as her power. Still, the emotional weight of these sentimental storylines won’t overwhelm youngsters, as it’s all layered in with finesse.
Action sequences and their aesthetics have evolved. Scenes that show the team functioning as a well-oiled machine are exhilarating, but pull double duty narratively, propelling the characters and their conflicts further. It’s also fun to see this turn into a family affair with returning player Kim Kardashian West — who perfectly voices prissy poodle Delores — accompanied by her children North and Saint in supporting roles. Composer Pinar Toprak’s evocative score is complementary without being pushy, enhancing character drive. Fur, water, lasers, fire and cloud elements are visually dazzling, while the climactic face-off between the puppy protagonists and their adversary feels electrically charged in these capable animators’ hands.
The consumerist underpinnings that were so prevalent in its predecessor are, of course, still evident — perhaps now even less cloaked, with their new souped-up vehicles and “Tron”-esque bodycon suits revealed in the expected hype-montage style. There’s even a fourth-wall-breaking joke ironically stated by a newsman (Lil Rel Howery), as if it were news to us, that makes us chuckle through our complicity. With much humor and charm, this second chapter reads fairly well for all ages. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it certainly knows how to cleverly repackage and resell the goods.